Breaking Barriers: Celebrating Black Trailblazers in the Mental Health Field

This Black History Month, we are focusing on the Black Americans whose contributions to the field of mental health deserve attention. Dr. Mamie Phipps Clark, Dr. Kenneth Bancroft Clark, Dr. E. Kitch Childs, Dr. Maxie Clarence Maultsby Jr., and Jacki McKinney all made significant impacts to the field, and today we are going to shed light on their impressive achievements (Mental Health America). 


Mamie Phipps Clark and Kenneth Bancroft


Mamie Phipps Clark, Ph.D. and Kenneth Bancroft Clark, Ph.D. 


Dr. Mamie Phipps Clark deserves immense recognition for being the first African American woman to achieve a doctorate in psychology from Columbia University. Her time at Columbia University allowed her to recognize the insufficient psychological services available to minority communities, prompting her and her husband, Dr. Kenneth Bancroft Clark, to conduct the groundbreaking “Doll Study.” This study, utilizing four identical dolls differing only in color, revealed that a majority of children favored the white doll and associated positive traits with it. The study findings help conclude that racial discrimination and segregation fostered feelings of inferiority in African American children, impacting their image of self. The Doll Study played a pivotal role in the landmark Supreme Court case, Brown v. Board of Education, which successfully argued that school segregation had detrimental psychological effects on African American children. Additionally, Dr. Kenneth Bancroft Clark, made history as the first black president of the American Psychological Association, while Dr. Mamie Phipps Clark established her own agency to provide comprehensive psychological services to underprivileged black and minority children and families.


Kith Childs


E. Kitch Childs, Ph.D. 


Dr. E. Kitch Childs was a trailblazer for women in psychology and the LGBTQ+ community and laid the groundwork for future advocates. In 1969, she played a pivotal role in establishing the Association for Women in Psychology. Her extensive network of friends and professional connections, spanning beyond Chicago and Oakland to international cities like Paris and Amsterdam, showcased her commitment to advocacy well into the 1990s. Dr. Childs, a practitioner of feminist therapy, focused her research on the experiences of Black women and feminist theory. Demonstrating a keen awareness of challenges affecting minority women, Dr. Childs dedicated her practice to those she deemed most in need, including battered women, survivors of sexual abuse, individuals with HIV/AIDS, and others. Furthermore, she contributed to the field by publishing an article in Feminist Ethics in Psychotherapy (1990), highlighting the stark statistic that in 1984, only 10 clinical psychologists in America identified as both Black and interested in women’s issues.


Dr Maultsby


Maxie Clarence Maultsby Jr., M.D.


Dr. Maultsby, an American psychiatrist, is known as the originator of rational behavioral therapy, a psychotherapeutic method focused on exploring emotional and behavioral self-management. His groundbreaking work in this field marked a significant contribution, giving emotional self-help as a subject for both scientific research and clinical application. Through rational behavior therapy, Dr. Maultsby developed a comprehensive system of cognitive-behavioral psychotherapy and counseling, highlighting how the brain functions in the context of emotional and behavioral self-control. The technique devised by Dr. Maultsby represents the first all-encompassing, brief, culture- and drug-free psychotherapeutic approach that yields enduring therapeutic outcomes. Dr. Maultsby was also the author of several books on emotional behavioral self-management, he was elected Distinguished Life Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association, and recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Association of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapists.




Jacki McKinney, M.S.W. 


Jacki McKinney was a resilient individual who successfully navigated through the challenges of trauma, addiction, homelessness, and encounters with both the psychiatric and criminal justice systems. She dedicated herself to being a family advocate, with a specific focus on challenges faced by African American women and their children. As a founding member of the National People of Color Consumer/Survivor Network, Ms. McKinney served as a consultant and advisor to the Center for Mental Health Services. Ms. McKinney received recognition for her advocacy efforts, being honored with Mental Health America’s prestigious Clifford W. Beers Award. Additionally, she was bestowed with a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration’s Voice Awards program, acknowledging her outstanding leadership and advocacy on behalf of trauma survivors.

The incredible individuals described in this article, have each made lasting contributions to the field of mental health, and to the specific cultural needs of African Americans and other minority communities. The Quell Foundation is dedicated to reducing the mental health stigma for all, and in supporting equal access to services for everyone.


To learn about other African American Pioneers in Mental Health, please check out this article by Mental Health America.